Mamallapuram – Ancient Rock Carvings

by

Mamallapuram (also called Mahabalipuram) is a tourist town about 60 km south of Chennai. This was a major port in the 7th century under the Pallava dynasty, famous now for its rock carvings from this period.

Shore Temple

Good references to Mamallapuram and to the Pallavas can be found at Wikipedia and Wikitravel.

In early August, my wife Carol and I went to Mamallapuram for a ‘vacation’ from our retirement in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu. I will make two posting from this. This posting shows photos of the stone carvings. The other posting is “Mamallapuram -Tamil Nadu Beach Resort and Tourist Town.”

History of Monuments (from wikipedia)

The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture wherein Buddhist elements of design are prominently visible. They are represented by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples. The pillars are of the Dravidian order. The sculptures are excellent examples of Pallava art.

It is believed by some that this area served as a school for young sculptors. The different sculptures, some half finished, may have been examples of different styles of architecture, probably demonstrated by instructors and practiced on by young students. This can be seen in the Pancha Rathas where each Ratha is sculpted in a different style.

The Shore Temple

The Shore Temple is the best known temple in the area, and the place where we started.

The Shore Temple is really two temples, one for Siva and one for Vishnu.

HPIM6201

HPIM6207

Exposed to the wind from the sea for 1300 years, many of the carvings have become very worn and eroded.

HPIM6215

HPIM6233

The Siva altar and lingam.

HPIM6227

The Vishu altar.

HPIM6248

Below is a stone creature, a lion (?), with an archer sitting on its knee. There is a carved area for a god or shrines in the lion. No shrine, though.

HPIM6252

Looking towards the town from the Shore Temple.

HPIM6185

The Pancha Rathas (The Five Rathas)

When I first saw these stone buildings I wondered if perhaps they were carved later, they were so perfect. I guess the current idea is that these were carved as practice exercises and examples for the rock carving students.

There are five buildings, all carved from single rocks, each in a different style.

HPIM6303a

HPIM6284a

HPIM6286a

HPIM6287a

HPIM6289a

HPIM6295a

HPIM6291a

HPIM6301a

HPIM6298a

Krishna’s Butterball

After we left the Five Rathas, we went to a central area in the city where there was a park area with many carvings. This was obviously a main area 1300 years ago.

The giant rock is balanced in place here called ‘Krishna’s Butterball’, and attracts many visitors. It is visible from the street and is the first area here to which many visitors will go.

HPIM6305a

Here is Carol holding up Krishna’s Butterball. We saw later that this is a popular pose for photos.

HPIM6310a

Here is a view from an area to the North.

HPIM6339a

Here a group of travelers ‘holding the rock up’.

HPIM6342a

Arjuna’s Penance – The Descent of the Ganges

This is to the South of Krishna’s butterball, and accessible from the road.

Immediately before the carved wall, there is an ancient figure of a monkeys caring for each other, grooming the mother nursing a baby.

HPIM6297

These life-sized carvings of elephants are shown in many pictures of Mamallapuram.

HPIM6300

In the center, in a crack, are a series of Nagas, Snake Gods. I think this symbolizes the Ganges.

To the left, left of the shrine is a sitting figure, said to be Arjuna, engaged in tapas, penance.

HPIM6323

HPIM6329

Varaha Cave Temple

This is carved in the rock, accessible to the south, from Krishna’s Butterball.

HPIM6291

HPIM6364

HPIM6365

We noticed throughout this temple, in the groins of some of the main figures, dark spots, where ghee lamps must have been burned.

HPIM6366

The wonderfully detailed carvings here are unaffected by the years, since they are in a protected location.

HPIM6255

HPIM6256

HPIM6258

Other Temples Cut into the Stone

Cut from One Single Rock

This temple is carved from a single stone, in a style that reminds one of those in the Five Rathas. If you examine it, you cannot see any marks where stones would have been joined together.

HPIM6294

HPIM6349a

Ganesh in the Temple shrine.

HPIM6351a

Nearby, these rocks have had big pieces taken from them. You can see the remaining straight side. They are about 20 feet high. How did they carry the pieces that were removed?

HPIM6353a

Temple cut into Rock Face

Next to Arjuna’s Pennance is another temple carved into the rock. This is accessible from the road.

HPIM6330

HPIM6331

Another Bas Relief Elephant

This is to the North from Krishna’s Butterball.

HPIM6330a

Carol with elephant.

HPIM6331a

Yet another Temple carved from a Single Rock

Also to the North from Krishna’s Butterball.

HPIM6327a

Lingam in the central shrine.

HPIM6323a

A well or catchment basin carved into the rock nearby.

HPIM6335a

A Goporum (Gate) atop the Rock above Arjuna’s Pennance.

HPIM6270

Details of a column

HPIM6281

HPIM6283

A goat enjoys the Goporum

HPIM6280

Tiger Cave

Tiger Cave is perhaps 4 km North of town. The animals depicted are really not tigers, but legendary beasts.

HPIM6303

HPIM6305

Long ago, the locals would climb this rock to watch for ships coming in, then light a signal fire.

HPIM6315

Mamallpuram is still a place were you can find many stone carvers. Since these skills are passed from father to son, I wonder if any are descended from the stone carvers whose work we saw from 1300 years ago?

As you will see in the next part of this posting, today they offer tourists instruction in this stone carving.

Related Post: Mamallapuram – Tamil Nadu Beach Resort

About these ads

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Mamallapuram – Ancient Rock Carvings”

  1. Solo in India: Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) Dance Festival | Hannah and the WorldHannah and the World Says:

    […] why did I want to visit Mamallapuram when it was much the same as any other tourist hotspot? The stone carvings were pretty spectacular but that wasn’t it. No, I was there for the dance […]

  2. Mamallapuram - Tamil Nadu Beach Resort and Tourist Town « Living in the Embrace of Arunachala Says:

    […] Living in the Embrace of Arunachala Richard Clarke, on life in Tiruvannamalai, Arunachala, and Indian Village Life « Mamallapuram – Ancient Rock Carvings […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 523 other followers

%d bloggers like this: